The Dog Obesity Epidemic: Avoiding the Spread
Did you know you may be literally killing your dog with kindness? Those extra treats you cannot resist giving them, sharing your food, you can’t resist those eyes, but the reality is that the extra treats and the resulting extra weight are causing lasting damage to your dog’s joints, bones ,internal organs and life span, even with slight obesity, some of these issues can never be fixed even with a change in diet, exercise and weight loss.
Obesity is a nutritional disease which is defined by an excess of body fat. Dogs that are over nourished, lack the ability to exercise, or that have a tendency to retain weight are the most at risk for becoming obese. Sadly, obesity is common and preventable in dogs of all ages, but it generally occurs in middle-aged dogs, and generally in those that are between the ages of 5 and 10. Neutered and indoor dogs also tend to have a higher risk of becoming obese. 59% of the dogs in the UK are obese. A recent study proves that dogs maintaining ideal body weight live almost two years longer (and with significantly less disease) than their overweight siblings.Worried yet?
Factors in canine obesity
What goes in must come out. Excess energy is stored mainly as fat, but there are other factors that contribute to canine obesity including activity, the diet the receive, environment, lifestyle, age, sex, if they are neutered and underlying diseases.
Genetics play a major part in obesity with some breed being more prone to it than others, most people have seen a fat retriever, but German Sheppard’s do not tend to struggle the same. Have you seen the Spaghetti eating competition on YouTube? Click the link below to see it.
Unneutered adult dogs often weigh less than an identical neutered dog. Neutering is usually carried out at a young age , the same time as a natural decrease in growth and energy needs. Oestrogen also slows down fat production, with predictably decreased levels post spaying, so it is important to cut down the level of food intake in any neutered dog.
Feeding table scraps and letting them join in with your meals can end up in feeding too much, but also risk their health as these human foods are not likely to hit their target protein amounts or the vitamins they need.
As they get older, dogs become less active, therefore needing less food, however, food is often not cut down proportionately and , like us, they pile on the weight.
Many owners are still not sure how much to feed their dog and fail to measure their food accurately, and sometimes deny how much they really feed If your dog is overweight, you are feeding too much and doing too little exercise. Cut down on one or increase the other, or even better, both.
Problems of Obesity
As a dog walker, I see more and more problems each year, and these are generally from very active dogs. Some breeds tend to be at greater risk of obesity than others
Previously, fatty tissue was thought to be just a relatively lifeless energy store and insulator; but we now know it secretes hormones affecting appetite, inflammation, insulin sensitivity and bodily function, as well as influencing water balance and blood pressure leading to kidney disease and high blood pressure. The excess weigh commonly causes arthritis directly affecting mobility, making it even harder for your dog to lose weight. There are many health issues directly related to obesity:
Anaesthetic & Surgical Complications
Heat & Exercise intolerance
Tracheal Collapse & Laryngeal Paralysis
Recognising the signs
Vets often use a 9 point scoring system to evaluate the condition of a dogs body. 1 means the dog is extremely emaciated and a 9 is morbidly obese with 5 being the Goldilocks of points, just right. Remember, a healthy weight is not just a number, as no two pets are the same! A whippet at 5 will look a lot thinner than a staffie. Ask when at your vets what your dog’s body condition score is.
To perform the rating yourself:
First , feel your dog’s ribs. We should be able to quite easily feel the ribs. There should be a slight amount of fat over them, but each rib should be distinct. If you can easily see the ribs, the dog is too thin. If you cannot feel them at all, the dog is very overweight.
Second , check the area near the base of the tail. There should be a slight fat covering over this area and it should feel smooth. If the bones protrude, the pet is too thin; if you cannot feel any bones at all, the pet is very overweight.
Third , feel other bony prominences on your dog’s body such as the spine, shoulders, and hips. Again, you should be able to feel a small amount of fat over these areas. If these bones are easily felt or visible, the dog is too thin. If you cannot feel the bones beneath the layer of fat, the dog is obviously overweight.
Fourth , look at your dog from above. The dog should have a definite waist behind the ribs. If the waist is extreme, or again, bony prominences are visible, the dog is too thin. If there is no waist or worse yet, the area between the ribs and hips is wider than the hips or ribs, the dog is grossly overweight.
Fifth , look at your dog from the side. Dogs should have an abdominal tuck, i.e., the area behind the ribs should be smaller in circumference than the chest. This can vary a lot between breeds. Sighthounds, for instance, appear to have a much more distinct abdominal tuck, since they are so deep-chested. A dog that is too thin will have a very severe abdominal tuck. Overweight animals will have no abdominal tuck.
Losing the weight
Always use the same tool to measure your food, have a dedicated cup, then if your dog needs to loose weight, you can cut down the amount you feed and gradually loose weight, if they loose too much, put up again, ensuring you do not go back to the original amount unless you have significantly increased their exercise or they will be back where you started.
Feeding the recommended amount.
The problem with looking at a dog food label for the recommended amount is that, unless a diet food, this is to maintain weight, not lose weight, so the chances are that if you feed the recommended amount, you will be feeding too much.
How not to feed your dog
Many dogs have food left down for them all the time so they can graze. This is very unnatural for dogs, and they will eat when bored. It can also make an unnatural hormone change which will make it harder to lose weight. Many dogs are given treats on top of their set meals, remember, the meals are the total feed a day your dog requires, so any treats should be taken out of the daily allowance. If you add treats, cut down on the volume at meals.
And the Right Way
You should feed your puppy or dog two to four small portions a day and the total number of calories in all the meals and treats must equal the amount of calories desired for the weight loss. If you find it hard keeping to a schedule, there are timed automatic feeders that can help you to feed at set times.
Don’t Guess the amount
You should measure the amount of food for each meal, never guess. There are special measuring cups that help you to do this.
Weight loss foods
There are many weight loss foods available to help you with your canine diet, these are designed to keep your dog feeling full while eating less, many of them replace the meat content with a high level of carbohydrate fillers , creating a low calorie bulk food. Unfortunately they are often not very tasty, do not make them feel full for long and increase the amount they poo.
Ultimately you can end up with a dog that feels frequently hungry, begging for food and this often result in an increased weight!
The best foods to help keep weight down
To ensure you succeed in weight loss of your dog, look for a food that is high in protein, making them feel more satisfied with their meals, below average fat and calories, this way your dog can eat more and still lose weight. Higher than average fibre facilitates weight loss and helps control blood sugar levels.
It has been proven that dogs can eat more raw or canned food than dry. If you feed solely dry food, try adding some canned food to your dry, between 25% and 50% canned has been the most beneficial.)
As a rule, keep treats to 10% maximum. Use 100% meat treats. Try and replace some treats with a game they love, use some of their dry food and high value reward and use the Jackpot principle (See the 10 Ways To Reward Your Dog Blog)
Try and increase your dog’s exercise amounts. This does not have to be much and if they are already struggling with obesity related illnesses, you may need to consult your vet first. Older dogs may appreciate a supplement to help with their joints, look for ones with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, Green Lipped Muscle and Turmeric.
Play more and treat less. Find their game of choice and do it more. Studies have shown that overweight dogs are less likely to be played with than dogs of target weight. Different breeds have different preferences,
Very overweight dogs may need time to develop the stamina for exercise. Most dogs can maintain proper body weight with a brisk 30 minute walk, just twice a day.
Finding new games and toys and bringing them into your dog’s daily routine and improve their condition, decrease boredom and help them bond with you.
Off-lead parks and doggy day-cares are great ways for dogs to exercise off-lead and learn to socialise.
Swimming can help dogs that struggle with joint problems.
Fresh Drinking Water
Always ensure there is fresh water readily available. Change the water a minimum of twice a day and ensure you clean the bowl with each change. A well hydrated dog is a healthy dog.
Monitor the weight
Most vets have an easily accessible canine weighing scales in the waiting room that you can use without an appointment. You should always check your dog’s weight every few months to ensure they have not slipped on a few extra pounds.
When they are being monitored for weight loss, you need to check them every week. You should aim for a 1% loss of their weight each week (2% if extremely overweight) If you do not achieve this, you may need to cut their food down further and ensure no one is giving them extra food and they are not pinching the food of any other animal in the house.
Keep a log of your dog’s weight and the amount of food you feed so you can check back on it in the future.
Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol. 220 No. 9, May 1, 2002, pp. 1315-1320